Celebrity Estate Lessons - Huguette Clark
September 13th, 2022
You might think the founder of the city of Las Vegas was pretty rich; and you would be correct. It turns out that he was. W.A. Clark was a copper and railroad baron during the Gilded Age. But we're not going to talk about him today; we're going to focus on his daughter, Huguette Clark.
In 1991, Huguette was admitted to the Doctor's Hospital in New York City to have tumors removed from her face. By this time, she developed a general distrust of outsiders, including her family, believing they were only after her money. Considering her estate was worth $300 million at the time of her death, it's hard to argue this point. She lived in hospital rooms for the final twenty years of her life.
Clark had two Wills written in quick succession in 2005 when she was 98. The first Will stated 45 million was to go to her long-time nurse and the remainder of her fortune was to go to whomever would inherit if she had died intestate (without a Will). A mere six weeks later she signed a second Will naming specific beneficiaries, including her nurse, her goddaughter, and a majority to charitable organizations, including one the Will created. It specifically cut out her family members.
When she died, many of her family members had never even met Huguette. The ones that had hadn't seen Huguette in over forty years.
The family sued, stating her Will was written under duress and that she didn't have the mental capacity to write a Will. Part of their evidence was her love of lifelike dolls, model castles, and the Smurfs.
The case was set to go to trial, but ultimately was settled out of court. $34.5 million dollars was distributed among her family members. Her nurse got nothing and had to return $5 million that she had already received as gifts. The rest of the money, including her Santa Barbara estate, went to the Bellosguardo Foundation, which is committed to honoring her family's past and "building a future where the estate can be enjoyed by all as a focal point for the arts." It's scheduled to open for tours this Fall.
As a final fun fact, Dick Wolf, executive producer of Law & Order acts as one of the Trustees.
One of the ways Clark's family says she could have proven her mental capacity would have been to have her Will signing filmed. While this is true, there can also be drawbacks to using this tactic. If you think mental capacity might be brought up by your family members and want to make sure your Will is ironclad, give us a call. We can help.